I haven’t read the book The Apostolic Congregation by George G. Hunter III. Happily, I have a friend who did. Here are some good quotes from it. If you want to see other good quotes from the book, go to Dan’s Bookshelf.
“Today, worldwide, wherever most of the ministry that matters is assigned to the clergy, Christianity stagnates or declines. Today, worldwide, wherever most of the ministry that matters is entrusted to laity, the church grows and is sometimes a contagious, unstoppable movement in all but impossible circumstances – such as the church’s growth in China in the last thirty years.” p. 32
“Contrary to Protestant folk wisdom, the faith does not spread mainly through mass evangelism or media evangelism; it spreads mainly along the social networks of living Christians, especially to the social connections of transformed Christians and new Christians.” p. 80
I love a good quote. This is good because it makes one think.
“When someone is honestly 55% right, that’s very good and there’s no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it’s wonderful, it’s great luck, and let him thank God. But what’s to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever says he’s 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal. ” “An Old Galician, as quoted by Czeslaw Milosz
In Christian missions, there is the temptation to know everything. After all, if we are attempting to show that someone is wrong and should change their mind, it seems counterproductive to admit ignorance. I have met people from other religions who absolutely refuse to say “I don’t know” or express any sort of doubt about anything. It has occurred to me how unappealing that attitude is. I would love to say that Christians I have met don’t do this… but it is not true.
As Christians we should be quick to say “I don’t know” to, frankly, many questions. There are a few reasons for this.
1. It is intellectually honest. We are finite beings, in information, time, and space. To suggest otherwise is simply not true.
2. It is appealing. To never admit ignorance or mistake is hubris… a sin. Titus 2:10 tells us to adorn the doctrine of God. I Peter 3:15 suggests that our sharing the gospel should be done with humility and reverence. In other words, we cannot say that we have done our job in sharing the gospel simply by being accurate. Our attitude matters.
3. It admits to the process. We are to study and to grow in knowledge and faith. To claim to know everything is to claim no room for growth and learning. I knew a person from Christian-based cult who claimed to fully understand everything in the Bible. Not much point to talk to someone who has already decided that she knows all there is to know. A friend of mine (more into apologetics than myself) pointed out to her some rather obvious misunderstandings she had with Scripture. Of course, nothing really happened. She knew everything so if she was wrong, she would already know it, correct?
4. Doubt relates well with faith. If we think we know all things, we don’t leave a lot of room for faith. Faith is empowered by our recognition of our finiteness… our limitations. We are called to be followers of Christ, but why should we follow Him if we already know exactly what we are supposed to do and where we are supposed to go? Embracing a bit of doubt opens us up to to embracing faith.
5. It points to our role as a Witness for Christ. Our role in this world is primarily defined as witnesses. A witness describes what he has experienced and has personal knowledge of. A good witness tells “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” A good witness does not pretend to know more than he knows. In fact, when a witness does act as if he knows more than he really knows, it taints his whole testimony.
Willingness to admit there are things we don’t know, adds veracity to the statements about what we know. It is reminiscent of the blind man who was healed by Jesus. When questioned by authorities, he focused on his own personal knowledge and let the others draw their own conclusions.
You may not agree with these thoughts. That is okay. I could be wrong.
Today, we had our third practice for our seminary choir. We are performing tomorrow. There is somewhere around 18 of us. We represent people from the Philippines, United States, Thailand, India, and Myanmar (I think that is all). It is hard to imagine a song that could be selected that would be culturally relevant to all parties. In fact, the decision was to do a song that related to no one in the group. We are doing an African-American (Black Gospel) song.
I am not a huge music person. I sing, I play the saxophone, I can dabble at the piano and guitar when necessary… but music really isn’t very important to me. BUT THAT IS NOT TRUE WITH MOST PEOPLE. In the mission field, music cannot be considered irrelevant. When I first started leading Bible study groups, the first thing I did was dump the singing… since I found it distracting. I know better now than to do that. Here are a few issues in the area of music.
1. What is “God’s Music”? One of the purposes of religion is to separate between the “sacred” and the “secular”. But religion is not always very good at this. Within Christianity that can even be tougher since Jesus and the Twelve point to the heart as the battleground of the sacred…. not material stuff. Nevertheless, music is drawn into this field of battle. The fronts can be:
-Theological. Here in Baguio City, we have a group that came from the United States that does not use musical instruments. Their argument is essentially theological, although they might say that it is biblical. The argument is that there is no mention of the use of musical instruments in the New Testament. However, the underlying theological argument is that that which is not explicitly permitted or blessed in the Bible is condemned. Of course, some take the opposite view– that that which is not explicitly condemned in the Bible is permitted. (Both extremes are rife with problems.) Is there a healthy theology for music? Should it mirror society? Should it react against society? Is there a solid theological base to accept or prohibit certain music?
-Biblical. Some look for Biblical models for music in church. The book of Psalms is essentially a songbook… but it was for Jewish believers in the Temple over 2000 years ago. Some think that if one quotes Scripture to music, it must be good. Is that the case? Some seek to create songs that follow (or so they think) the music structure and musical instruments of the Bible. Nothing wrong with that, but does that make it Biblical?
2. What is the “Devil’s Music”? When I was young, I was told that Rock and Roll was the Devil’s music and it drove people to sexual promiscuity (to be honest, the term “rock and roll” has sexual overtones). I was told that Disco music led to homosexuality (it seemed logical). I was told that guitars and drums had no place in church (of course, I play the saxophone, which was thought of as being a devilish instrument back in the Prohibition and Jazz age). I was told that rap is full of evil words… and is frankly not even music (I must admit that I still find that argument somewhat convincing).
-Battleground #1. New versus Old music. People who connect with a certain type of music often like to demonize other music forms. A few years ago here in Baguio, some of us visited a different Christian denomination (not evangelical, but not cultic). We were treated quite nice and we joined them in the service. Afterwards, we were critiquing the service (it was for a class we were taking). One classmate mentioned that she did not like the music because “the Spirit wasn’t in it”. I must be honest, I did not notice this. Frankly, I have my doubts that one can tell that sort of thing. My personal feeling is that the classmate had problems because this church used hymns, rather than P&W. In class a number of students would giggle about the older generation’s insistence on hymns over P&W. I suggested that the students show grace and mercy since they would want their children to show them that same grace and mercy years from then. It is curious that even in the last 7 years, this is coming true. The P&W music that was so popular a few years ago is becoming the music of the old folks (my old classmates are not happy to be reminded of this). Now there is also a counter-reaction as well. Hymns were considered old are now sometimes looked at with new eyes. Some are definitely old and irrelevant. But some are showing a timeless quality that should be used. Some churches set up different services to accommodate different style preferences. Some think that a church is not truly united if they don’t share the same music (I have never understood this). Others have sought a blended music style… although some charge this is simply getting everyone to a point of being equally unhappy. Others focus on one style and make it clear that everyone better appreciate that style.
-Battleground #2. Cultures. I was a bit unhappy when I first came to the Philippines. I was hoping to hear good Philippine music in church. What I heard was Hillsong and Don Moen. What a great disappointment. Often it got worse since the music in churches here were typically led by the youth, and so the music leaders would TRY to mimic what they saw on the Christian music videos. What often counted as Philippine music was P&W songs from elsewhere translated into Tagalog. Attempts to come up with contextualized Christian music has often been hit by derision, and even charges of incorporating the works of the devil in music. The highlands of the Philippines is full of great music tradition and instruments. It is the land of the adivayan, the canao, the gong, the nose flute. It is also the land of American country music. This has led to a lot of conflict with Filipinos from the lowlands, denominational traditions, and music styles from the US and Australia. Some charge the music and styles from the highlands as being syncretistic and pagan. Others countercharge that highland churches must use native worship styles to be effective. Otherwise, they are overrun by post-colonial cultural imperialism.
My thoughts? I have no answers. I would love to see more contextualized music here. In some parts of the world, missionaries trained in ethnomusicology have done interesting things to ensure music relevancy and cultural preservation. However, some of the people most opposed to local music styles are local people. I guess I would say…
1. Respect the old and the new. Both the old and the new have something worthy for us. Current music trends will always stay a step or two ahead of the church, so attempting to always be current means, ultimately, to always be a little outdated. Instead of trying to be current… grab the best from the now, the past, and even the ancient. Music can be our tie to our Christian family back thousands of years. We should not reject our past. Be both an agent of change and of preservation.
2. Seek to educate people musically. Music is NOT worship, but it can help us in our corporate worship experience. We would seek to help people be inclusive of different cultural music expressions of faith. Help the people understand music, not simply mimic what the music team presents.
3. Show grace and flexibility. We don’t like the same music, we don’t feel worshipful with the same music. My favorite worship music is Gospel bluegrass… that doesn’t do me that much good here in the Philippines (although bluegrass does exist over here if you know where to look). Don’t mock different forms of music and don’t force everyone to conform blandly to one style. If your feel a certain type of music is inappropriate, come up with a thoughtful reason for this. A liturgical church may simply not be able to appreciate marching music. A charismatic church may not understand Gregorian chant. That’s okay… but don’t assume that one can gain something from different styles.
4. Seek culturally relevant church music, but remember that the church is worldwide. Just as music can connect us with both the past and the present, it can also connect us to Christians around the world. I love hearing Christian songs that are done in styles from South or West Africa. I enjoy Christian anthems with bossa nova chords and rhythm. But even if it is a style I don’t care for, the style can still connect me with Christians from that culture.
One of the greatest Christian songs I have heard was a friend here in Baguio who sang a Christian song in the style of the people in Mountain province. It was a a cappella chant expressing a Christian message. The words he made up as he went. Although I have no cultural connection with Mountain provice, I felt connected to the Christians there when I heard it. I have other friends from Nagaland, India. They sang a Christian song in their own dialect and style, including things that I would have to describe as War Whoops. Once again, it is good to find connection across cultural barriers, and music can help do this.
Figure V shows the most generic interaction where a missionary from one culture seeks to give a contextualized message to a second culture. If one looks at the Three Culture Model, this is essentially the upper triangle labelled “M”. the culture on the left interacts with the culture on the right via culture “B” which is the Bible Culture. Since a culture is understood in terms of the symbolic structure of a people, this works well. The message of God is transmitted to us via symbols. So the job of the missionary as a giver of God’s message is primarily in the symbolic area, not structural area. (Of course, some missionaries focus on community development and social ministry, in which case their main role would be different. I am here focusing on the prophetic role of the missionary here.) The missionary must gain understanding of the message of God through proper exegesis separating the message from the symbolic patina of the missionary’s own culture. Then contextualization must be done to relate that message to the other culture. <This is the concept of “Translation” rather than “Diffusion” as described by Lamin Sanneh.> Ideally the transfer of the missionary culture to the respondent culture should be low. Historically, such as in the 1800s, missionaries were seen as doing two major things… the first is spreading the gospel. The second is “civilizing the populace.” Doing this means that one does not simply work on the cultural/symbolic level but is interacting with the society. Today this is viewed as cultural imperialism. Since the culture is the link between the natural world and the societal structure, changing the culture is the more worthwhile goal.
Let’s look at the challenges associated with other interactions. Figure II (from Part 20 involves more of an E-1 to E-2 interaction. This might include reaching out to neighbors of a very different religion or belief system. Some people may not consider this to be cross-cultural. And yet it is, and is a big challenge. That is because it is difficult to accept two different cultures within the same system that are both blessed by God. The Book of Galatians describes Greek and Jewish culture Christians in the same community but with different cultures. People found it very difficult to accept that both can be in God’s favor. Different denominations in the same community often fight because they think that others should the same as themselves.
Figure III is the easiest and the hardest. It is the easiest because the commonality of culture, along with lack of competitive interaction, greatly reduces the challenge of contextualization. This is an E-1 interaction. It is difficult because there is the APPARENT lack of need to exegete and to contextualize. However, the problem there is that there becomes the greater assumption that the Bible culture/symbolism is the same as the culture/symbolism of their own culture. Monocultures often become unable to separate between their own cultural faith characteristics and the Gospel of God.
Figure IV describes an unstable condition, the same culture has two very different societal rules and structures. Ultimately, if one people group does not totally absorb the other, the two cultures will begin to separate or the two natural worlds will begin to separate (or both). This is a challenge and an opportunity. History shows Christians’ tendency to side with one people group while rejecting the other. In the early years, Christianity sided with the Greek world and rejected the Jewish world (and later the Arab world). In North Africa, the church sided with the Latin world and against the local society. Sometimes, Christians chose the winning team and gained apparent success from that. Other times Christians chose the losing side and have suffered for it. But if Christianity can gain a foothold in both people groups, it does not matter what changes occur in this situation. The point is, the apparent similarity of cultures of two very different groups should not lead a missionary to ignore the affect of societal differences since they will affect things in the long run.
Since culture is the lens through which a people group interact with the world around them… a unique set of symbols… it is critical that the missionary learn these symbols, as well as the symbols of God’s message to us. Hardly a new concept. But something that needs to be emphasized regularly.
Part 4 moves into Incarnational aspects of communication and ministry
Another popular form for looking at culture is in the form of game or play. Some people who promote this model are Johan Huizinga and Wolfhart Pannenberg. The following is not following their ideas. I am just pointing out that the analogy of culture and play is not far-fetched.
P People Group corresponds with Team
N Natural World corresponds with Field of play
C Culture corresponds with Game objectives
S Society corresponds with Rules of the game
An ideal game would look like Figure II. The Field of play and rules of the game are identical. The game objectives are opposite. That is, one team seeks to (for example) protect goal A and put the ball in goal B, while the other team seeks the opposite. Finally, the Teams are approximately evenly matched. In People Groups, this arrangement would describe two cultural groups that are part of the same overall society and the same natural world. However, the cultures are not compatible so there is a competitive state. It should be noted that this ideal situation is not very realistic. With very different cultures, there would be a tendency to have changes in both society and natural world. But one could imagine situations that approximate this situation. One can imagine two social classes in a given community… the “Haves” and the “Have Nots”. One culture seeks change while the other seeks to maintain the status quo. This is not perfect. The society and natural world would be modestly different for the two people groups even if they share the same geography.
Figure III can show a different interaction. If the same culture and society is shared (or very similar) but have very different natural world, there would be no competition. Using the game analogy, the two teams share the same objective, follow the same rules, but are playing on different fields of play. One can also imagine a Franchise Arrangement. Two different franchise locations operate the same way, with the same manual of operationg and the same objectives, but operate in different geographic markets. No competition. For people groups, it could be like people groups that are the same in every way except that they live in different areas so that there is no direct competition for resources. This can be looked at as two or more communities within a monoculture.
Figure II. Ideal Game
Figure III. Franchise Model
Figure IV is the option where two groups share the same culture and natural world, but with very different societies. This is a bit hard to imagine. Take the sports analogy. Two teams operate with the same objective, and the same field of play, but with different set of rules. Imagine two teams on a basketball court. Both are trying to score in the same basket, but one is following the normal rules of basketball, while the other is generally following the rules of netball or international handball or lacrosse or something. There is going to be conflict, but the conflict is likely to be chaotic. One would also expect it to be temporary. For people groups, one might expect there to be conflict and chaos. If two people groups share the same natural environment as well as culture, and yet have very different rules and institutions, it seems unlikely that this state would last for long. One is reminded of the generally unsuccessful attempts to apply shariah law (one of its several forms) in a multi-religious setting. The shariah law is supposed to only apply to members is the Islamic faith. However, the tension of such an institution that is only binding for part of the society simply has never worked out very well. In the end, national law dominates shariah law or people try to apply shariah law universally. In more general terms, one people group could dominate and marginalize or absorb the other group, or the different societal institutions and norms would drive the two cultures apart.
Figure IV. Unstable Interaction
Consider the four Figures. These are four different interactions. The first is non-interaction. The next three show interaction on two vertices. There are other options of course… such as where there is only one shared vertex. But instead of wearing anyone out showing all of those options, one could use Figure I as the more generic case for those other options.
I have been dabbling with communication models (such as the 3-culture model). I thought the basic appearance could be applied to cultures and interaction of cultures. I am very open to thoughts on this.
Figure 1 shows two people groups.
P People GroupN Natural World (objective reality) associated with the people groupC Culture associated with the people groupS Society associated with the people group Figure I. Two People Groups
“P” stands for a people group that can be characterized by its unique real setting, unique culture, and unique society.
“N” stands for the natural or real setting of a people group. This could involve its geography, its local weather, and other aspects that we would not consider to be subjective.
“C” stands for the culture. Culture here is defined as a set of symbols that bridge the gap between human society and the natural or real world. It provides filtering and meaning to perceptions. (Although for many people, thinking of culture in terms of symbols seems odd, a number of cultural anthopologists such as Ernst Cassirer, L. A. White, and Claude Levi-Strauss, view culture in this way.)
“S” stands for the society… the social bonds in a society. To some extent one can think of society in terms of institutions and laws.
Some thoughts based on this model:
The people group triangle is always changing in shape since the natural or real world is always in flux. Likewise, the natural world affects culture and society and is ultimately affected by it.
Culture is the lens through which people understand/interpret the world around them. People in society affect the world around them based on the perception they have from culture. This is why the natural world (N) and culture (C) is connected by a solid line. Likewise, culture (C) is connected by a solid line with society (S).
The interaction between the natural world and society is typically indirect (via culture) that is why a dotted line connects (N) and (S).
I have chosen to show the line connecting the natural world (N) and culture (C) with a curved line. I would love to give some clever reason for this. However, I really want to show that the relationship between culture (C) and society (S) is different from relationship between culture (C) and the natural world (N). This is because the natural world is not so much a human construct… certainly far less than culture and society.
<Note: I take a more Baptist understanding of Christian baptism (although I am certainly more open-minded than some). Thus I understand baptism as primarily symbolic rather than sacramental or salvific. However, I think most all Christians would agree that there is a strong symbolic aspect to baptism. As such, hopefully there are thoughts here worthy of consideration by all. But since baptism is one of the biggest divisive issues in the Christian faith, I cannot promise you will find this edifying. Also, since experts have argued over this stuff for centuries, don’t expect to be “wow’d” by this post. Just some thoughts to think about.>
Baptism has indefinite roots. Some suggest its pre-Christian roots are tied to the rites involved with Jewish proselytes. Others suggest Essene purification rites. Still others focus on John the Baptist‘s symbolic use representing repentance. Rather than argue over which one is correct, perhaps it is best to see all three as relevant symbols for a pre-Christian understanding of baptism.
Baptism can then symbolize: Change of state, Moral purification, and Repentance.
In the early church, there appeared to be additional, yet related symbolism involved. Romans 6 shows baptism describing association with the death and resurrection of Christ. The early church also saw baptism as symbolizing membership in the church… to the point that the Corinthian church thought people who were part of the church but had died prior to being baptized should be baptized in absentia. From this point of membership in the church, it quickly became associated with salvation.
In the early church, baptism appears to have been done quickly after conversion. Later, it was more formalized after years of catechetical training. In the early years, baptism was done in “living” (or flowing) water. Later, a pool was set up where women and men were baptized (separately). The came in naked and left the pool given a white robe. Clearly, there was added symbolism added. The time delay was probably tied to the need to ensure that a person was a true convert. After the Emperor Constantine, becoming a Christian was more “faddish.” So there was a concern that people wanted to join the church without a true conversion. Going into the baptismal pool with no clothes could symbolize how one brings nothing with one into the Kingdom of God (as one takes nothing with one into the grave), and coming out with white clothes is reminiscent of the symbolism in Revelation describing the new life in Christ.
With all of this, the symbolism for baptism could involve:
-Change of state from spiritual death to spiritual life
-Repentance and Moral purification through Christ
-Identification with Christ in His death and resurrection
-Identification and membership with the church
Missiological Implications of This Symbolic Understanding:
Baptism should be done within the context of the church. That is because identification and membership with the church does not make sense if done disconnected with the church. The symbol breaks down otherwise.
There is a lot of question as to whether baptism should be through immersion, dipping, or sprinkling. While I prefer immersion, and find historical justification for it, symbolically things are more mixed. Immersion does work better in identification with Christ in death and resurrection. On the other hand, sprinkling, dipping, or washing does work quite well in terms of symbolizing purification.
In some cultures, such as very dry cultures, there has been the question of whether one could baptize, for example, in sand. Here, the issue is the opposite of the sprinkling issue. Covering with sand is a better symbol of burial and resurrection than water, but less effective as a symbol of purification. Looking at the figure in this post, the symbol needs to connect both to the meaning and to reality. The further it drifts from reality, the less effective the symbol becomes.
In some cultures… for example close knit Muslim or Hindu cultures, it can be quite dangerous to have a recent convert baptized. Is baptism absolutely necessary? In the early church, baptism was presumed to be tied to conversion. The idea that one would convert to following Christ without being baptized (unless unable like the thief on the cross) was unknown. But what about today? First of all, if baptism is primarily symbolic (as opposed to sacramental or salvific) then immedicate baptism is not necessary. So one has the options of delayed (or never) baptism, near-term secret baptism, or near-term public baptism. So what about secret baptisms? Is that acceptable? I would argue that it is acceptable as long as it is done within the church context. Baptism wasn’t a symbol for the broader society… it had meaning for the individual and for the church. So a secret baptism within the context of the church seems acceptable. I guess that I don’t have any clear answers. However, forcing a quick and public baptism isn’t required. I do believe that following Christ ultimately involves public testimony… but baptism is not directly part of this. Delay may be appropriate in some cases. One should be sensitive to the concerns of the individual. (More on this in the next point.)
Some hold that baptism must be immediate upon conversion. Others require a delay. I would suggest that as a symbol, it is best to be neither immediate (normally) or greatly delayed (again normally). It should not be immediate since symbols lack value if they are not properly understood. In some cases the understanding may be immediate… but more commonly some time would be required. On the other hand, despite the the habit of the ancient church of taking approximately 3 years of training prior to baptism, a long separation between conversion (and connection with the church) and baptism breaks down the symbolic value. While there may be times when immediate baptism is appropriate, or times when a great delay is appropriate, normally baptism should be done soon after conversion and connect with a church at a point when the individual understands its symbolism.
So we can look at a few items comparing symbolic and sacramental
Water Baptism Symbolic vs Sacramental
Lord’s Supper Symbolic vs Sacramental
Spirit Baptism Symbolic vs Sacramental
(Unity) (Individual Blessing)
From a sacramental standpoint, water baptism is viewed as related to salvation. Symbolically, it represents unity with Christ and unity with the church. From a sacramental standpoint, the Lord’s Supper is a medium of grace. From a symbolic standpoint, it is a memorial, looking back to Christ’s death and look forward to His return.
From a sacramental standpoint, Spirit baptism is an individualistic blessing. For some it describes the blessing of the indwelling and sealing of the Holy Spirit that occurs with the salvation of an individual. For others it describes some form of “second blessing” that hits an individual at some point subsequent to salvation.
I would like to suggest that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is better understood symbolically.The main passage describing the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (and one of only two unambiguous passages on this topic) is I Cor. 12:12-13. This passage is clearly speaking of unity and diversity in the body of Christ (the universal church). By one Spirit we are baptized (“immersed” or “dipped”) into one body. Then the passage talks about each of us have drunk of the same Spirit. So the Spirit is compared to water. In the first image is that the Spirit is someone/thing that we can be immersed in as a group, becoming one. The second image is that the Spirit is someone/thing that we can individually drink and have within us. So the Spirit symbolizes our communal and individual identities, our unity and diversity.
The other passage (Acts 1) seems consistent with that. Jesus speaks of the baptism (immersion) of the Holy Spirit a group of His followers. It was spoken to a group, not to individuals (hardly proof that the emphasis is on unity but is consistent with that image). The baptism was demonstrated in a form for all members of the initial first church focusing on the community rather than the individual. Since the apostles had already received the Holy Spirit before (according to John) and were empowered by the Spirit during the ministry of Jesus, it seems unlikely that the individual or sacramental interpretation of baptism of the Holy Spirit is justified.
All in all, I believe that water baptism and baptism of the Holy Spirit focus on unity/community within the body of Christ. This powerful truth tends to be lost in the sacramental understanding of an individualistic second blessing or indwelling. These symbols can be useful to draw us together as believers from different cultures, denominations, and traditions. Far too often they have been used to divide. (Note: I am not discussing the validity or lack of validity of the concept of Spirit indwelling or the ‘second blessing’, I am simply noting the inappropriateness of tying either one to the symbol of Spirit baptism.)